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Sleep Apnea by Matt Peifer

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Ever been told you snore loudly?  Are you always tired during the day?  Have you woken from sleep suddenly gasping for air?  Notice a slower reaction time or problems with your vision?  If you happen to answer yes to any of these questions you may have a condition known as sleep apnea.  Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleeping disorder, where breathing repeatedly starts and stops.  These abnormal pauses in breathing, called an apnea, can last anywhere from a few seconds to minutes.  This can go on five to thirty times or more an hour, all night long.  These disruptions in breathing decrease the ability to reach the desired slow-wave sleep, also known as deep sleep, that our bodies need.  That leads to why you wake up in the morning feeling tired or may have trouble focusing on tasks throughout the day.

Now that you have an idea of what sleep apnea is, let me go into how and why sleep apnea happens.  I am going to focus on obstructive sleep apnea, which is the most common form of this sleeping disorder.  Obstructive sleep apnea takes place when the muscles in the back of your throat relax.  When this occurs, the airway narrows or closes as you inhale, and breathing momentarily stops.  This lowers the oxygen levels in your blood.  The brain then senses the inability to breathe and you briefly awaken from sleep to reopen your airway.  This awakening is usually so brief you won’t even remember it.  Thus you are getting a good night’s sleep but in reality, if this is happening five to thirty times an hour, for the entire night, you aren’t getting a good sleep after all.  That leads to why you probably feel sleepy during the day.  Most people with obstructive sleep apnea are not even aware that their sleep was interrupted.  Many with this type of sleep apnea think they sleep well all night long.  Obstructive sleep apnea can happen with anyone, but the following factors will put you at an increased risk.  If you are overweight, have high blood pressure, are a smoker, use alcohol or sedatives, are older, a male, or have a family history.  All of these factors should lead you to get proper treatment.

Let me finish up with the necessary steps to treating obstructive sleep apnea, now that you are aware of what sleep apnea is, and how and why it happens.  The first step you should take is to meet with your doctor or physician to discuss.  After talking with your health care professional it will probably be determined to do a nocturnal polysomnography otherwise known as a formal sleep study.  During this test, you are hooked up to equipment that monitors your heart, blood oxygen levels, brain activity, breathing patterns, and lungs while you sleep.  If it is determined that you do have sleep apnea, treatment can be achieved through therapy or surgery.  I will describe one therapy and one surgery treatment, but there are others available and you should look into them to find out what works best for you.  Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a medical device that provides air pressure through a mask placed over your nose while you sleep.  The CPAP provides greater air pressure than you would get from normal breathing and keeps the airway open to prevent closing.  While CPAP is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea it can be uncomfortable and it is not a cure.  A more permanent fix to sleep apnea is to have surgery.  Maxillomandibular advancement (MMA) is the most effective surgery for sleep apnea patients.  In this procedure the jaw is moved forward from the remainder of the face bones to increase the posterior airway space, making obstruction less likely.

In closing, I hope you have a better understanding of what sleep apnea is, why and how it occurs, and some treatment procedures to help with sleep apnea.  As always, seek proper medical advice from a licensed and trained medical professional and finally get some good night’s sleep.  Sleep well.



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